Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness challenge: Bollywood Dancing

Each week intrepid reporter Rachel Grunwell will try out a new form of exercise to bring you the lowdown.

Channelling her inner-girlie-girl - complete with bangles and beautiful sari - Rachel Grunwell performs with Ella Kumar who teaches Bollywood-style Indian dancing for fitness. Photo / Michelle Hyslop
Channelling her inner-girlie-girl - complete with bangles and beautiful sari - Rachel Grunwell performs with Ella Kumar who teaches Bollywood-style Indian dancing for fitness. Photo / Michelle Hyslop

What is it? Indian-inspired dance to Hindi music. Bollywood comes from the name Bombay (the city now called Mumbai) and Hollywood. It's a name popularly used for the Hindi-language film industry.

What's needed? A sari or comfortable clothing and shoes.

The experience: The inner-girlie-girl in me is loving putting on some serious bling to get the best fun out of a Bollywood dance lesson.

Dance teacher Ella Kumar has stepped me into a pretty petticoat and then expertly spun my body around and around into a blood-red and gold sari. She stacks dozens of sparkly bangles on my wrists and puts a bindi decoration on my forehead (to show I'm married).

The gorgeous silk sari feels soft and the gold detailing reflects the light like glitter. It's also very special. It's Ella's mother's wedding sari, which is among many Ella sometimes loans to dance students for end-of-course performances.

She doesn't believe in hiding her saris in a dusty drawer, but shares them so they're celebrated. However, she says students tend to want to buy their own by the end of her lessons.

I look like I could step out of Jai Ho, the song-and-dance scene in Slumdog Millionaire. Except I'm not in a train station, like in the movie, but in the Mt Roskill Grammar School hall.

I may look the part, but can this white girl Bollywood dance? Ella reckons anyone can.

Several non-Indian women are in this group of nine. One is a social worker who's here for fun, fitness and has found it " a great way to relieve stress". Another works in the dentistry industry and found herself here after flipping a coin over this or badminton - "and I'm so glad I did this. It's so much more exciting!" she says with a laugh.

Ella has danced since she was a girl and has taught Bollywood dance at Mt Roskill Grammar School for five years.

She also teaches other fitness classes here, something she's done since she graduated from the school in 1983 and went on to gain post graduate qualifications in this field.

She kicks off the lesson with some high-energy Hindi music and then stands at the front of the class, her back to us, so we can follow her moves.

We start with things like gentle hand gestures and use "traditional hands" by placing each thumb on its corresponding first digit. There's some head turning, but Ella jokes, "no whiplash movements. You don't want to lose your neck!"

It's not long before I'm twirling, swirling, spinning and grinning.

There's a move called "pat-the-dog", where my hands mimic patting the pet. And another named "adjusting lightbulbs", where you twist your wrists like you would when screwing in lightbulbs. This actually looks elegant if you don't think about the description! My husband would laugh that this will be the first time he's seen me do such a thing.

Later, there's some finger pointing (I'm good at that) and even some hip-thrusting sexy moves (this must be the Hollywood bit), but the dancing is mostly graceful, girly, elegant and captivating.

Ella reminds everyone to make their movements looser, quicker and more fluid during the six-minute song that we practise over and over.

She reckons taller people with longer limbs have to "work harder" to reach each position.

Near the end, Ella stops the music and tells us we are "marvellous", but asks "which steps do you want to fix up?" So we go over a couple of the movements until the girls master them. Ella assures me the class will have the beautiful Bollywood dance fine-tuned by the end of the seven-week course. They will be performing their song at the Auckland Diwali Festival (October 13-14) at the Aotea Quarter, off Queen St. The festival features live performance, food and craft celebrating all things Indian.

By the end of the dance class, I know I've had a great workout. I was fumbly on a few moves as it was my first time. Ella tells me I have natural hand movements. But she's just charming, and so is her dancing. I think the corners of my mouth were upturned for an hour.

How much? $70 for seven classes, held every Tuesday at 7.30pm-8.30pm. The next group starts Tuesday, October 30.

Worth it? Fabulous fun.

Try it: Mount Roskill Grammar School is on Frost Rd, Mount Roskill, ph (09) 621 0055.

Rating: 10/10

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n2 at 23 Sep 2014 16:47:15 Processing Time: 659ms